An intelligent transportation system (ITS) involves a set of technological solutions aimed at improving the performance and safety of transportation systems. The key components of an ITS include advanced traffic management systems, automated fare collection (AFC) systems, e-wallets and digital payment options, and automatic vehicle detection systems. Over the past few years, ITSs have gained popularity as they are passenger friendly and help in streamlining operations.
Key technologies in place
Today, most operational mass transit systems deploy AFC systems. It is one of the most important types of ITS solutions as it creates the primary interface between customers and the operator. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) ushered in the country’s first contactless ticketing system using smart cards and tokens. The corporation uses state-of-the-art devices for AFC through contactless smart cards and contactless smart tokens for commuters. The value stored in the card gets deducted (at the automatic gates) to the extent of the fare for the journey. A similar AFC system has been deployed in the Bengaluru metro and the Surat bus rapid transit system (BRTS). AFC systems offer greater convenience for everyday payments and a hassle-free travel experience. They also enable better fare revenue collection, reduce operational costs and provide reliable ridership and system data to the operator.
Another important ITS solution deployed in metro systems and BRTSs is an electronic passenger information system. It involves the installation of an LED display screen that provides information related to arrivals/departures, delays and traffic status on a real-time basis. The Ahmedabad BRTS boasts of a public information system along with a global positioning system and a centralised control room.
In order to ensure greater safety, modern signalling systems have been deployed in major metro projects such as those in Delhi, Lucknow, Bengaluru and Kochi. These signalling systems include centralised automatic train control involving automatic train operations, automatic train protection and automatic train signalling systems. Further, intercoms are provided in each coach for emergency communication between the driver and passengers. Besides metro projects, Indian Railways (IR) too has modernised its signalling system in order to enhance the safety of train operations. IR has adopted automatic train protection technologies such as train collision avoidance systems, electronic signalling interlocking systems, axle counters for automatic clearance of block section, and automatic block signalling.
For seamless traffic movement, the government has also been focusing on electronic toll collection systems. Launched in April 2013, the country’s first interoperable radio frequency identification-based electronic toll system was rolled out on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai national highway. The system allows vehicles to be fitted with electronic tags to sail through six toll plazas operated by three developers. Since then, the implementation of electronic toll collection across national highways has increased manyfold. Going a step further, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways mandated the implementation of FASTags for all vehicles in December 2019. By end 2019, electronic toll collection systems were deployed at 523 toll plazas of the National Highways Authority of India.
The Smart Cities Mission, launched in 2015, has the deployment of intelligent traffic management systems (ITMSs) as one of the key components under the mobility segment. Most of the cities under the mission have made ITMS adoption an area of focus. A number of smart solutions such as a centralised command and control centre to control and regulate traffic movement in the city, CCTV cameras at main roads, traffic sensors, and automatic number plate recognition and red light violation detection systems have been included under the purview of ITMSs. Besides, the use of cashless and touchless systems such as BHIM, Google Pay, PhonePe and Paytm are also being promoted to reduce human intervention in public transportation operations.
The way forward
Over the past few years, the adoption of information and communication technology-based solutions has gained prominence. With the increase in urbanisation and traffic densities, the deployment of such solutions is expected to increase. The COVID-19 outbreak and the need to maintain physical distancing has made the deployment of technological solutions inevitable.
The ongoing pandemic has created significant opportunities for technology providers. Timely and effective implementation of these initiatives, along with adequate management, will be critical. While the government has already taken a number of technology-based initiatives to improve the performance of transportation systems, increasing the pace of implementation and deploying new solutions will be a key enabler in the post-COVID era.